Conservatives and Libertarians share a vision for a clean energy future, but disagree on the best ways to get there.
The nature of clean energy is changing. For decades, clean energy advocates have pushed for a government-focused, regulate-and-subsidize approach. Today, basic economics and market-driven innovations are creating an environment where individuals and businesses pull government bureaucracies toward a clean energy future. The institutions intended to protect consumers from industry now protect industry from consumer and market-driven choice.
That was the message delivered by Mark Fleming and Betsy McCorkle of Conservatives for Clean Energy while addressing Wednesday night’s Wake Libertarian meet-up at the Oak & Dagger Public House.
Technological innovations, spurred by competitive market forces provide consumers more and better choices. Private companies like Walmart, focused on controlling short and long term costs, now drive the movement to a clean energy future. There are clear benefits when the market is allowed to do its job. In lower-regulation states, consumers get periods of free electricity when clean energy sources like wind overproduce.
But in North Carolina, the road to a clean energy future is neither clear nor close. Piles of complex and often out-dated regulatory policy are standing in the way of the very goals they were created to advance.
The presenters were careful not to paint a clear villain in North Carolina’s deficit of clean energy options. This situation, like most, is more complex and nuanced than a 60-minute discussion could clarify. North Carolina enjoys electricity rates below national and Southeast averages. The current electric monopoly makes a better-than-average effort at providing universal service and quick recovery after outages.
But the libertarians in attendance—adept at looking beyond the surface benefits to the seen and unseen costs—quickly dissected the barriers to consumer choice in generating clean energy to meet market demand.
The proverbial “deal with the devil” is actually a deal between two devils. One is a sclerotic and political regulatory bureaucracy. The other is a politically powerful, too-big-to-fail behemoth benefiting from monopoly privilege. Consumers may be satisfied, but they are not really served.
By the end of the hour, two approaches emerged. We can continue to seek incremental adjustments through politicized negotiation resulting in a single solution mandated for everyone across North Carolina. Or, we can give consumers the choice to seek the kinds of energy options that meet their individual requirements through the market forces that incentivize producers to deliver more innovation, higher quality, lower cost and broader access. To put it another way, do we want the energy generation that powers increasingly critical aspects of our lives to be treated more like the post office or more like high-speed wireless broadband?
Regardless of strong divisions in means, the evening was uncharacteristic of the political discussions happening elsewhere, online and in real life. While the debate was passionate and spirited, discussion was civil. Participants were thoughtful. Comments were substantive. And the tone was respectful. Everyone seemed to come away from the evening with a deeper understanding and a greater appreciation of our shared vision of a clean energy future.